Summer Centered: Olivia Legaspi ’19 Empowers Artists of Color
With an internship at Philadelphia nonprofit the Asian Arts Initiative, the English major and fine arts minor hopes to uplift the achievements of minority artists.
Olivia Legaspi's internship at the Asian Arts Initiative (AAI), a Philadelphia nonprofit that encourages visitors to think critically about the relationship between race and artistic recognition, would seem to tie in more with her fine arts minor than her English major at first glance. But Legaspi’s love of all things literary overlaps with her current responsibilities in ways that might not be immediately apparent.
“As an English major,” says the rising senior, “I believe in the importance of narrative, and I was excited by the work that Asian Arts Initiative is doing in preserving and amplifying the voices of Asian-American communities and artists.”
It’s a narrative that Legaspi is helping to direct—for the duration of the summer, at least—thanks to funding from both the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship and the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities. Over the course of an average week, she writes a blog post that “makes connections between AAI art, current events, and [her] own experiences,” researches likely donors and relevant grants, and markets, staffs, and photographs AAI events, including artist talks and performances.
“I have been independently creating art for a long time,” says Legaspi, who paints and sculpts in her free time, “but before this internship, I didn’t have experience with public art or community-based artistic processes. Being surrounded by art every day and contributing to the organization of public arts programming inspired me and gave me a lot of ideas for future projects.”
Situated in an old Warner Bros. screening house in Philadelphia’s Chinatown North neighborhood, AAI—a "multidisciplinary arts center where all people... can view and create art that reflects our lives, as well as think creatively about the future we want to build for our communities"—provides private studios and gallery spaces for community artists both amateur and professional. Founded in 1993, its core mission remains one of enacting social justice through artistic expression. Legaspi, for her part, is keenly aware of the ethnic elements that underlie the organization’s work. In fact, they played a key role in her decision to apply for the internship in the first place.
“I wanted to become more informed about the issues facing Asian-Americans in Philadelphia,” she says, “and I have learned a lot about the history of Chinatown and how residents have had to fight against discrimination, gentrification, and displacement. Art is such a powerful tool of resistance, and I wanted to be a part of the work that AAI is doing in empowering and supporting artists of color.”
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.